The Three Coins is a strange story about a mysterious competition in a small town involving three coins marked with a square, a circle and a cross.
After it happened, everyone agreed that the whole thing was the product of a twisted mind, a game of chess played by a madman, in which the playing pieces were human beings.
One morning, the inhabitants of a small town in the United States woke up to find a large billboard had been erected in the town center. The sign read:
“Yesterday, three coins were put into circulation in this city. Each coin is engraved with a symbol – a square, a circle and a cross. These coins will change hands many times and on the seventh day after this announcement, the holder of each coin will receive a prize:
1st Prize: One million dollars in cash.
2nd Prize: An all-expenses-paid trip around the world.
3rd Prize: Death.
The answer to this puzzle lies in the symbols on the three coins. The circle, the square and the cross. One of them symbolizes wealth, another symbolizes travel and another symbolizes death. It’s up to you to figure out which is which…”
By noon, almost everyone had heard the news and the town was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Shopkeepers examined the contents of their cash registers and customers checked the loose change in their pockets and purses.
The first coin was found in the street by a young boy, who immediately took it to his father. The father got nervous when he saw the cross engraved on the coin. He thought the cross represented a cross over a grave and was sure it was the coin of death. He got rid of it quickly by spending it in a shop. Everyone who received the coin marked with the cross came to the same conclusion and it began to change hands rapidly.
The second coin was discovered by a cafe owner in his cash register. It was engraved with a square. He stared at the coin for a long time before growing worried and handing it to an old lady with her change. The old lady took one look at the coin, let out a scream and threw it into the street as if it was burning a hole in her palm. A street sweeper picked up the coin and carried it around with him all day, dreaming of holidays in foreign lands, before finally succumbing to the fear that gnawed at him. The coin marked with the square changed hands again.
The third coin was found in the change given out by a vending machine. It was engraved with a circle. The man who found it kept it in his pocket, but the next morning, he discovered, to his dismay that it was gone. He had accidentally spent it, but he couldn’t remember where. It turned out that the person he had given it to was a woman who sold fruit and vegetables in the street. She was sure that it was the million dollar coin, but when she showed it to her husband, he felt it was bad luck and told her to get rid of it. She tossed it into the cup of a homeless man who was begging in the street. He ran off to buy a bottle of alcohol with it and the coin marked with the circle changed hands again.
The three coins were on everyone’s lips. All anyone wanted to talk about was the three symbols, but nobody could agree on their meaning. All of the people who came into possession of one of the coins were wracked with doubt and plagued by indecision, desperately asking others for advice about what they should do.
Some thought the circle meant a trip around the world. Others believed it represented a globe. The cross puzzled a lot of people. A few thought it represented crossing the seas. Others were convinced it was a symbol of death. The majority of people were convinced that the square represented a coffin or an open grave.
It was a big risk. Everyone was excited about the prospect of winning one million dollars in cash or an all-expenses-paid trip around the world, but nobody wanted to win third prize. The question was whether the greed for money or the desire to travel were stronger than the fear of death.
The people were eager to find out who had devised such a strange competition. Was it a viral marketing campaign? Was it a bored billionaire having fun at their expense? Perhaps it was a group of scientists carrying out a social experiment. Maybe it was some sort of elaborate practical joke or a prank for a hidden camera show.
By the sixth day, the city was almost in a state of hysteria. Everybody was wondering what the outcome of the strange competition would be.
Everyone knew that a certain bar-owner had the coin with the square on it because he couldn’t help boasting about it and telling everyone what he planned to do with his million dollars. But on the morning of the final day, he lost his nerve. Seeing a blind man begging on the street corner, the bar-owner went over and dropped the coin into his cup.
Everyone knew that the coin with the circle on it was in the possession of a young man named Bud Skinner who worked in a drugstore. He had a pleasant attitude and an easy smile, so people wished him well and hoped that he would win the trip around the world.
Everyone knew that the man who had the coin with the cross on it. He was a postman named Kenneth Carlton. The poor man had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he only had a few weeks to live. If the cross was a symbol of death, as everyone thought, it would make little difference to poor Kenneth Carlton.
On the morning of the final day, the blind beggar was sitting on his corner, as usual, when he felt something drop into his lap. It was a package. The blind man asked some passers-by to open it for him. Inside, there was a ticket for a trip around the world and a note that read: “The four corners of the world are all exactly the same.”
“I was hoping to win the money,” the blind man said. “Then I would never have to beg again. But this… A trip around the world… What good does it do me?”
In a fit of rage, he snatched the ticket and tore it to shreds.
At almost exactly the same time, Kenneth Carlton, the postman was sorting through the mail in his bag when he came across a bulky envelope that was addressed to him. He frowned when he noticed it didn’t have any stamps on it. His co-workers gathered around in excitement.
“Open it!” some of them cried. “Let’s see what’s inside.”
“No, don’t open it!” others shouted. “What if it’s death?”
Kenneth Carlton gave a grim chuckle and began to tear open the heavy envelope. “This is the best chance I’ve had in years,” he said. “If it’s death, then I hope it will be fast and painless.”
He dumped the contents of the letter on the table and then, after a moment, he began to laugh… a sad, horrible laugh.
His co-workers stared at the pile of cash. It was more money than they had ever seen in their lives.
“The money!” they cried. You won the million dollars, Ken! You’re rich!”
He stopped abruptly to snatch a note from the table. It read: “Wealth is the largest cross that a man must carry.”
“One million dollars,” said the postman. “For a man with terminal cancer. I have one million dollars and in a few weeks, I’ll be dead! How ironic! I guess it’s true. Money is more of a burden than a blessing.”
At almost exactly the same time, Bud Skinner was at work in the drugstore when he noticed a small package sitting on the counter. At first he thought one of the customers must have left it behind, but then he noticed that it was addressed to him.
He tore off the brown wrapping paper and his friends eagerly crowded around. What he found was a silver box. With trembling fingers, he pressed the button on the front and lifted the lid. Curiously, the box was empty. A moment later Bud Skinner’s face took on a strange expression… and as his friends watched in horror, he collapsed on the tiled floor.
The police were called, but their investigation revealed absolutely nothing, except that young Bud Skinner had been poisoned. The fatal dose had been administered through a pin prick on his finger when he pressed the button on the silver box. On the underside of the box, they found an engraved message that read: “Life ends where it began… nowhere.”
Nothing more was ever revealed about the mysterious contest of the three coins.